40 Questions: Asked and Answered

I’ve stayed fairly quiet in the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same sex marriage nationwide in the United States. My views on same-sex marriage are hardly a secret, but there are several things about the way this case was decided and the likely (and already beginning) aftermath that have me concerned. As a result, my feelings on the topic are very mixed, and I simply hadn’t found the right forum in which to share them.

Until now.

I’ve seen an article going around the Internet from Kevin DeYoung, writing at The Gospel Coalition, entitled “40 Questions for Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags.” I’ve had a number of friends post this article and ask for thoughts and responses. I’m not much of a flag-waver myself, but I am happy for the people who can now get married, and have been vocal in supporting their ability to do so. That being the case, I thought I’d share my answers to DeYoung’s questions. As always, in sharing these thoughts I am speaking for myself, and myself alone. Your mileage may, and probably does, vary. I’m sure there’s plenty of material below for those on all sides of this issue to find offensive, so if your preference is to read only things you agree with, I’d advise you to stop here.

1. How long have you believed that gay marriage is something to be celebrated?

I think any advance in civil liberty is something to be celebrated, and I’ve believed that civil recognition of same-sex marriage would constitute such an advance since around 2003-2004. I think complete civil disengagement from marriage would constitute an even greater advance.

I don’t recall what exactly spurred my initial change of heart (as late as 2002, I was attending Patrick Henry College and engaging in spirited discussions with fellow students about possible legal strategies for overturning Lawrence v. Texas, the case that voided state laws against consensual homosexual activity in one’s own home. Needless to say, I’m not there anymore.) I was one of the first people I know to call for the government to get out of the marriage business altogether, long before that became a mainstream libertarian position espoused by the likes of Rand Paul, or the Cato Institute, or more recently, political conservatives who just want to extricate the country from the marriage debate and have done with it.

2. What Bible verses led you to change your mind?

I can’t point to any verse or verses that were directly responsible for changing my mind, because I consider the civil definition of marriage first and foremost a political, rather than spiritual, issue. However, I think the most applicable verses on this matter are Rom. 12:2 and I Cor. 9:19-23:

Rom 12:2: And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Ironically, I’ve seen this verse used many, many times to argue against Christian acceptance of SSM. But I would argue that it applies at least as much to those who fetishize conservative political views as the default “godly” position on any given issue. I would argue that if you’re using the coercive force of government to enforce your religious beliefs as laws that govern those around you according to your will, you have become well and truly conformed to this world, and that in order to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” you must separate your notions of “what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect,” from your notions of what makes good public policy. Sometimes the two will overlap, of course (e.g., laws against murder, thievery, etc.), but the anti-SSM crowd tends to argue that they are synonymous, practically by definition. This is a mistake Christians have been making ever since Constantine first institutionalized Christianity as a State religion roughly 300 years after Christ’s death, and is a big part of how we got here in the first place. More on that later.

I Cor. 9:19-23: For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.

As a professional communicator, this is one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture. Paul’s basic point in this passage is that people are most receptive to our message when we share it using the traditions and institutions and cultural accouterments they understand, showing them Christ “in their language,” so to speak. Paul was himself a master of this communication technique, as seen most vividly in Acts 17:22-31. His message there is the same: The external trappings are not the point. Christ is the point.

My favorite modern example of this is from Peace Child, an autobiographical account of Don and Carol Richardson’s work among the tribal people of New Guinea. The book’s titular example of “speaking to a foreign civilization in the language of their own culture” is summarized here. Read it if you’re not familiar with the story already. It’s kind of amazing.

However, the book also addresses the ethics of sex and marriage directly. Richardson explains that as he shared Christ with the Sawi people among whom he was living, he was at times tempted to advocate that they change some of the cultural practices he found repulsive. But he realized that doing so would actually hinder them in their nascent relationship with God. One particularly poignant story he tells is regarding the issue of polygamy, and Richardson’s relationship with the Sawi chieftain. He notes that the man had four wives, but rather than trying to get him to give up polygamy, Richardson simply shared Christ with him as they interacted on a daily basis. Eventually, after coming to know and love Christ, the chieftain decided of his own volition that polygamy was something God wanted him to give up.

TL;DR response: Behavior isn’t the point. Christ is the point. Our behavior can and will change in a variety of ways as a result of a relationship with Christ, but any time spent pushing someone to change their behavior is time NOT being used to share Christ with them.

3. How would you make a positive case from Scripture that sexual activity between two persons of the same sex is a blessing to be celebrated?

I wouldn’t.

I’d make a positive case from constitutional law that the government should refrain as much as possible from interfering with the freedom of contract and the freedom of association – both of which are involved in civil recognition of marriage, by whatever definition it is given. Unfortunately, that’s not a position most people on either side would agree with. Conservatives don’t seem to want unrestricted freedom of contract and freedom of association because it means other people can do as they choose in their marriages. Progressives don’t seem to want unrestricted freedom of contract and freedom of association because it means other people can do as they choose in their bakeries, flower shops, and photography studios. It’s in the interest of both sides to develop a framework in which they can argue that their side should be favored, without such niceties as leaving other people alone to do as they choose.

As a result, instead of a universally accepted right to freely contract and associate as we see fit, what we end up with is a nebulous and unchecked “fundamental right to marriage” discovered by Justice Kennedy and completely contradicting his two-year-old opinion in US v. Windsor invalidating the Defense of Marriage Act. This latest opinion is grounded in expansive language that gives five members of the Supreme Court the ability to “discover” new “fundamental rights” (which, oh by the way, trump our existing, enumerated Constitutional rights) whenever they choose to do so. [Full Disclosure: At the time of the decision, I wrote a defense of Kennedy’s reasoning in Windsor here. I will not do so for his reasoning in Obergefell, which I find indefensible.]

So while I agree with the outcome of this most recent case (“concurring in the judgment,” in the parlance of the court), that’s pretty much all I agree with, as the rationale behind it was deeply flawed and will undoubtedly lead to big problems down the road in areas that have nothing to do with marriage. For some excellent analyses of the court’s flawed reasoning by other conservatives who also support SSM as I do, read this, this, and this.

It didn’t have to be this way. But because conservative Christians refused to countenance the freedom of contract and freedom of association for those on the other side of the question, we’re now reaping precisely what we sowed.

4. What verses would you use to show that a marriage between two persons of the same sex can adequately depict Christ and the church?

First, I would note that I’m personally aware of many, many, many marriages between two persons of opposite sexes that do not “adequately depict Christ and the church.”

Then, I would follow up by noting that, as a matter of public policy, those heterosexual marriages are none of my business – just as marriages between two people of the same sex are none of my business. I’d use any number of verses to show that my marriage “adequately depicts Christ and the church” (more on that in Question 32 below). I’d encourage and support friends and loved ones who asked my advice in dealing with their own marriage struggles, and I’d stop there.

If I did feel compelled to point to a specific verse, I’d look to I Cor 13:12. I’ll elaborate more on that in my response to Question 32, which overlaps a bit with this one.

5. Do you think Jesus would have been okay with homosexual behavior between consenting adults in a committed relationship?

I suppose that depends what you mean. I think, given his treatment of Zacchaeus (just to name one of many examples) that if he had encountered any couples in a committed, consenting, same-sex relationship, Jesus probably would have invited himself to dinner at their place and hung out with them at parties.

6. If so, why did he reassert the Genesis definition of marriage as being one man and one woman?

I assume this is referring to Matthew 19:3-7, in which Jesus quotes Genesis 2:24? If so, then it’s completely false to claim that Jesus “reasserted the Genesis definition of marriage as being one man and one woman.” In particular, he and the scholars to whom he was speaking in this passage would have certainly understood that a “Biblical Definition of Marriage” could, at minimum, accommodate one man and multiple women. The Law of God explicitly makes provision for this in Deuteronomy 21:15-17.

“If a man has two wives, the one loved and the other unloved, and both the loved and the unloved have borne him sons, if the firstborn son belongs to the unloved, then it shall be in the day he wills what he has to his sons, he cannot make the son of the loved the firstborn before the son of the unloved, who is the firstborn. But he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the beginning of his strength; to him belongs the right of the firstborn.”

It’s important to note here that Christ does NOT later disavow this provision of the Law and attribute it to God’s accommodation of base human desires, the way he does with the Law’s provision for divorce. Furthermore, Scripture records at least two instances in which God himself is described as having a favorable view of polygamy:

A) II Sam. 12:8 “I [God, speaking through Nathan the prophet] gave you [King David] your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more.”

B) II Chron. 24:2-3 “And Joash did that which was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest. And Jehoiada got for him two wives; and he begat sons and daughters.”

So it’s actually pretty ridiculous to claim that God’s definition of marriage is “one man and one woman,” given that he explicitly said otherwise on multiple occasions.

The notion of marriage as a formal civil institution strictly limited to “one man and one woman” was a later invention of the Greco-Roman society in which the early church was born. Ironically, based on the context of Deuteronomy 21, the sociological reason behind Deuteronomy’s codification of polygamy and Roman codification of monogamy likely stemmed from exactly the same source as the disputes in US v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges: Protection of inheritance rights.

In other words, the very same sorts of legal, financial, and familial concerns that led the Hebrews of antiquity to codify polygamous marriage, and led the ancient Romans to codify monogamous marriage, have led 21st Century Americans to codify same-sex marriage.

7. When Jesus spoke against porneia what sins do you think he was forbidding?

The word is most frequently translated as “immorality” in the NAS (my personal preferred translation). Other English renderings in this translation include “fornication(s),” “immoralities,” “sexual immorality,” and “unchastity.” My understanding of his audience and their culture is that his original listeners would have understood it to refer to those sexual acts that fell contrary to the Jewish Law as interpreted by the favored legal scholars of his day. I don’t know enough about Judaism to know off the top of my head everything that would have been included in their list(s).

When Luke, Paul, and John used the same Greek word elsewhere in the New Testament, they were speaking to a broader audience than Jesus’ predominantly Jewish one, and would likely have understood the word somewhat differently. Given that the Greek root “pernao” refers to a “selling off” of sexual purity, it’s likely the uses of this word in the epistles were meant (a) to refer to the all-too-common temple prostitution of the time, and (b) to equate sexual promiscuity in general with that prostitution in the minds of their readers. The point is: this particular word – like many in our own language – meant somewhat different things to different people.

That said, there’s really no need to take a position on this question to argue that, as a matter of human freedom, the government has no business determining what consenting adult human beings may mutually contract and commit to one another. So this question and its various possible answers (as well as a couple of the others below) are interesting but irrelevant.

8. If some homosexual behavior is acceptable, how do you understand the sinful “exchange” Paul highlights in Romans 1?

See the last paragraph of my above answer. There is no need to take a position on this question in order to argue in favor of SSM as a matter of public policy. More on this in response to Question 40, since that question largely duplicates this one.

9. Do you believe that passages like 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Revelation 21:8 teach that sexual immorality can keep you out of heaven?

These verses can’t be pulled out and isolated as “proof-texts.” They have to be read in the contexts for which they were written.

1 Cor 6:7-11 reads as follows:

“The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters. Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived:Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

So “keeping you out of heaven” is far from the point of the passage, which deals with rather more . . . terrestrial . . . concerns. It begins in verse 7 by explicitly stating that Christians should NOT use the civil government to punish each other for the actions listed (a fantastic scriptural argument AGAINST civil court actions regarding same-sex marriage, by the way), and it ends in verses 11 by noting that as believers our identity is no longer drawn from our behaviors, but from Christ.

Does “sexual immorality” keep you out of heaven? According to this passage, no more than greed, drunkenness, or slander do.

As far as Rev 21, starting in verse 6 John contrasts two groups of people:

A) “To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.”

B) “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

I would argue the central message of this passage is much the same as the passage in I Cor 6: Once we have a relationship with Christ, we belong to (and are identified with) him, not our behaviors.

At a minimum, though, if you interpret these verses to “teach that sexual immorality can keep you out of heaven,” then you have to interpret them to teach that lying, greed, and cowardice do the same thing. If that’s truly the case without any other caveats or clarifications, then literally everyone I know (including myself) is in a heap of trouble.

10. What sexual sins do you think they were referring to?

Adultery is one sexual act that is explicitly named in these verses. As far as non-sexual sins they also refer to greed, lying, and cowardice. Would you argue these acts should be regulated and punished by the civil government?

11. As you think about the long history of the church and the near universal disapproval of same-sex sexual activity, what do you think you understand about the Bible that Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and Luther failed to grasp?

Given the times and cultures they lived in, each of them failed to grasp the notion that Scripture does not need to be (and was never intended to be) a universal treatise on civil government. Augustine argued that the chief purpose of civil authority was to punish evildoers (defined according to his Biblical worldview). Aquinas believed that “moral” behavior for a government was simply an extension of what was moral for an individual. Luther allied himself with civil leaders and used their influence to counteract the civil authority of the dominant religious order of his time, while Calvin actively implemented a civil government that operated directly according to his interpretations of Biblical principles. In all four cases, their views of civil government were inextricably linked with, and designed to enforce, their respective theological positions.

Our government doesn’t work like that. It’s not supposed to work like that.

One evidence for this fact is the Treaty of Tripoli, signed by John Adams and ratified by a unanimous U.S. Senate, which said in part:

“As the Government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the law, religion or tranquility of Musselmen [Muslims]; and as the states never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mohometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinion shall ever produce an interruption of harmony existing between the two countries.”

So the signature of the man who helped draft our Declaration of Independence, who drafted the Massachusetts Constitution that served as a prototype for the U.S. Constitution, and who served as the first Vice President and second President of this nation, adorns a document that says: “The Government of the United States . . . has in itself no character of enmity against the law, religion, or tranquility of [a belief system that explicitly allows polygamy].”

12. What arguments would you use to explain to Christians in Africa, Asia, and South America that their understanding of homosexuality is biblically incorrect and your new understanding of homosexuality is not culturally conditioned?

I would argue that any individual’s understanding of homosexuality is culturally conditioned (along with any other issue addressed by Scripture, to include things like braiding hair, eating shellfish, and other things prohibited for different cultures at different times throughout the millennia over which the Bible was written). It is impossible for any individual who exists within a particular culture at a particular time to avoid some measure of cultural conditioning based on the predominant views of those around them.

13. Do you think Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were motivated by personal animus and bigotry when they, for almost all of their lives, defined marriage as a covenant relationship between one man and one woman?

No, I think they were motivated by cultural norms first, and later by political expediency (which – as the political winds shifted – was also, I believe, the driving force for their respective “evolutions” on the subject).

14. Do you think children do best with a mother and a father?

Yes.

15. If not, what research would you point to in support of that conclusion?

Not applicable (see previous answer).

16. If yes, does the church or the state have any role to play in promoting or privileging the arrangement that puts children with a mom and a dad?

Church, yes (if a given congregation or denomination chooses to take on that mission). State, no. Although, given this country’s rates of divorce and out-of-wedlock birth (including among active church-goers), neither institution has demonstrated much in the way of competence at such a role.

17. Does the end and purpose of marriage point to something more than an adult’s emotional and sexual fulfillment?

My marriage certainly does. For anyone else’s I have no idea. You’ll have to ask them.

18. How would you define marriage?

Which version?

This is, I think, the most important question of the lot. There’s a very important distinction here that nobody is making – and for very similar reasons on either side. When Americans, in particular, talk about “marriage” they’re actually talking about two different things. One is a civil contract between individuals legally eligible to marry, which is accompanied by certain civil privileges and obligations. The other is a socio-religious covenant by which the participants (not just the individuals being married, but in many cases the officiant and the spectators as well) mutually commit to share certain privileges and be bound by certain social and interpersonal obligations. The specific privileges and obligations vary, by state in the civil version and by congregation or denomination in the socio-religious version. Typically, throughout the history of Western Civilization, the two types of marriages have taken place in parallel. But that doesn’t change the fact that in our culture the word “marriage” means two very distinct things.

That being the case, when someone advocates for government recognition of same sex marriage, he or she is talking about the civil variety. When someone else counters with arguments about the “Biblical definition of marriage,” he or she is talking about the socio-religious variety. They’re actually talking past one another.

That’s because it is in the interests of both camps to conflate the two for the sake of control. Doing so allows the dominant faith (which for most of this nation’s history has been protestant Christianity in some form) to exert its control over the civil version of marriage, and has also given ministers of that faith and others a special status as officiants over the civil institution of marriage. However, now that the dominant faith in this country has shifted to a form of secular humanism (albeit sometimes still clothed in religious garments), that same conflation of the two is allowing civil authorities to exert control over the socio-religious version of marriage, and by extension the officials who administer it.

I would argue that it’s in everyone’s best interests to sever the two versions immediately and completely, and I would argue that the reason we have failed to do so can be directly attributed to Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin, as mentioned in Question 11 above. We (by which I mean conservative Christians) have been trying to impose these four theologians’ views of culture and morality on a political system that was never designed for it. Sadly, we’ve given more weight to these four individuals and the ways they viewed morality than we have to Christ and the ways he did.

I find it sadly ironic that the rich American evangelical tradition that draws so much of its history and theology from the various strands of Nonconformist thought has fought this hard to retain the imprimatur of government sanction on their religious ceremonies and sacraments. John Bunyan – the Nonconformist pastor and author of the beloved allegory Pilgrim’s Progress who spent 12 years in prison for refusing to practice his religion as his civil government dictated – would have a wealth of new material for one of his polemics if he could see how much effort today’s American evangelicals spend lobbying for government approval of their religious institutions.

19. Do you think close family members should be allowed to get married?

See above discussion on the differences between civil and socio-religious marriage.

A) As to the civil version, I am in favor of any consenting, adult individuals who are legally authorized to make and be bound by contracts being permitted by civil authorities to engage in whatever mutually agreements and associations they choose. If the government chooses to affirm a particular type of contract or association, I don’t care if they call it a “marriage,” or a “civil union,” or a “fish sandwich.” But to avoid the appearance of favoritism, they ought to make it available to everyone, and call it the same thing for everyone.

In other words, “yes.”

B) As to the socio-religious version, I am in favor of any congregation or denomination having absolute freedom to sanction (or not) any covenant its members agree is in accordance with their beliefs, and to set any and all boundaries and criteria for entering into and dissolving that covenant.

In other words, “no.”

20. Should marriage be limited to only two people?

See previous response.

21. On what basis, if any, would you prevent consenting adults of any relation and of any number from getting married?

See previous response.

22. Should there be an age requirement in this country for obtaining a marriage license?

Each state typically sets the “age of majority” at which someone is allowed to legally sign a contract. In some states, that’s also the “age of consent” to sexual relationships, though in other states the two are different. I believe that anyone who is eligible according to the laws of their state to sign and be legally bound by the terms of a contract AND is able to legally consent to a sexual relationship should be able to contract with whomever they choose in order to obtain a marriage license proffered by their state (again, speaking of the civil definition of marriage, rather than the socio-economic version).

23. Does equality entail that anyone wanting to be married should be able to have any meaningful relationship defined as marriage?

This is essentially a slight rewording of Question 18. That being the case, see my answer above.

24. If not, why not?

See answer to Question 18.

25. Should your brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with homosexual practice be allowed to exercise their religious beliefs without fear of punishment, retribution, or coercion?

Yes.

26. Will you speak up for your fellow Christians when their jobs, their accreditation, their reputation, and their freedoms are threatened because of this issue?

I have already done so, and have been just as roundly chastised for it by my friends on the left as I have been by my friends on the right for arguing in favor of civil same sex marriage.

27. Will you speak out against shaming and bullying of all kinds, whether against gays and lesbians or against Evangelicals and Catholics?

I have already done so, on both sides of that equation.

28. Since the evangelical church has often failed to take unbiblical divorces and other sexual sins seriously, what steps will you take to ensure that gay marriages are healthy and accord with Scriptural principles?

As stated in my answer to Question 19 above, “I am in favor of any congregation or denomination having absolute freedom to sanction (or not) any covenant its members agree is in accordance with their beliefs, and to set any and all boundaries and criteria for entering into and dissolving that covenant.”

That being the case, as far as “Scriptural principles” are concerned, it is the duty of anybody who is a member of such a congregation or denomination to (a) uphold its principles personally, and (b) avail themselves of whatever accountability mechanisms the particular congregation or denomination has established. Unless I’m also a member, the extent to which any particular congregation’s definition of, and actions toward, marriage “accord with Scriptural principles” is none of my business.

As far as “healthy” goes, it’s also my duty to be there as a friend for my friends – those who are married or not, to a member of the same sex or not. That being the case, I would happily share my thoughts regarding the health of any friend’s marriage if he or she asked me to . . . including a friend who was involved in a same-sex marriage, although I don’t know why they would ask, given that many of my insights and experiences (centered as they are around my heterosexual marriage) would not necessarily translate to theirs.

29. Should gay couples in open relationships be subject to church discipline?

Again, as noted under Question 19, “I am in favor of any congregation or denomination having absolute freedom to sanction (or not) any covenant its members agree is in accordance with their beliefs, and to set any and all boundaries and criteria for entering into and dissolving that covenant.”

30. Is it a sin for LGBT persons to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage?

Yes, I believe unfaithfulness to one’s freely-given vows is always, objectively, wrong.

However, as far as the ramifications of such an act, once again, “I am in favor of any congregation or denomination having absolute freedom to sanction (or not) any covenant its members agree is in accordance with their beliefs, and to set any and all boundaries and criteria for entering into and dissolving that covenant.”

31. What will open and affirming churches do to speak prophetically against divorce, fornication, pornography, and adultery wherever they are found?

I suppose you’ll have to ask them that question. Though frankly, most churches of any stripe in this country have been doing an astonishingly poor job of it.

32. If “love wins,” how would you define love?

In 1 Cor. 13, the Bible’s epic chapter on love, the climax of the chapter in verse 12 constitutes a stellar definition:

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.”

“Love” then, is knowing someone as fully and completely as it is possible to know them, while being fully and completely known by them in turn.

As any married person can tell you, there are some very profound ways in which you can only “fully know” someone in the context of a long-term, fully committed, fully safe, and fully secure relationship with them. In our culture, we usually call that “marriage,” and this verse (which refers first and foremost to our relationship not with another human being, but with God), captures with absolute perfection the way a marriage (of any stripe) can reflect Christ’s relationship with his church.

33. What verses would you use to establish that definition?

1 Cor 13:12

34. How should obedience to God’s commands shape our understanding of love?

1 Cor 13:4-7 says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered,it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” That is the heart of my understanding of love as it relates to obeying God’s commands.

35. Do you believe it is possible to love someone and disagree with important decisions they make?

Yes.

36. If supporting gay marriage is a change for you, has anything else changed in your understanding of faith?

Yes, though not as a matter of cause and effect. My faith has changed in profound ways over the course of my adult life. The specifics of those changes are the topic for another blog post (or several). Some of those blog posts have already been written on this very blog, if you have the time and/or inclination to peruse them.

37. As an evangelical, how has your support for gay marriage helped you become more passionate about traditional evangelical distinctives like a focus on being born again, the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the total trustworthiness of the Bible, and the urgent need to evangelize the lost?

See response to Question 2. To reiterate the bullet-point response to that question: “Behavior isn’t the point. Christ is the point. Our behavior can and will change in a variety of ways as a result of a relationship with Christ, but any time spent pushing someone to change their behavior is time NOT being used to share Christ with them.” My support for gay marriage has shown me that a lot of what many evangelicals get spun up about these days is a distraction from focusing on their own distinctives, and an adventure in missing the point.

38. What open and affirming churches would you point to where people are being converted to orthodox Christianity, sinners are being warned of judgment and called to repentance, and missionaries are being sent out to plant churches among unreached peoples?

This question stems from a flawed premise, which is that the primary duties of any particular local congregation are to focus on orthodox doctrine, warn of God’s judgment, and support international missions. Certainly the Church in Scripture is seen doing all of these things, but they were not its key focus. Far more important to the Church of Scripture were the tasks of sharing the good news of Christ’s saving work, maintaining the cohesion of the body of Christ in the face of persecution, and caring for those unable to care for themselves. I would argue that evangelical churches ought to spend more time sharing Christ rather than obsessing over finer points of orthodoxy, emphasizing Christ’s saving and sacrificial love rather than focusing solely on his judgment, and ministering to their local communities rather than far-flung cultures they don’t understand and often engage with only for brief periods of time.

Typically the churches that do these things: focus on Christ rather than solely on orthodoxy, focus on love rather than solely on judgment, and focus on enriching local community rather than solely on “westernizing” foreign cultures, also tend to be among the more open and affirming churches, though I’d guess that the link is correlative, not causal.

39. Do you hope to be more committed to the church, more committed to Christ, and more committed to the Scriptures in the years ahead?

Yes, although when I say that, I doubt that I mean the same thing you do.

40. When Paul at the end of Romans 1 rebukes “those who practice such things” and those who “give approval to those who practice them,” what sins do you think he has in mind?

That’s largely a repetition of Question 8, with a thinly-veiled “gotcha” attempt tacked onto it (which means, given that Questions 23 and 40 are essentially duplicates of Questions 18 and 8 respectively, that you still owe me two more questions to round out a full 40).

I do need to say a bit more here, though. In my response to Question 8, I noted that one need not take a position on the answer in order to argue in favor of civil, same-sex marriage. But I do have to note that as worded here, in addition to being a duplicate this question is also a misquote of Romans, seemingly with the intent of condemning those like me who neither engage in same-sex relationships, nor support laws against them.

To that I say, “nice try, but no.” Romans 1:32 is not an automatic “I win” button for your side in this debate. The text of Romans 1:32 says, “who, knowing the ordinance of God, that they that practice such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but also consent with them that practice them.”

So your question differentiates between two groups of people being “rebuked” (to use your word):

A) “those who practice such things,” and
B) those who “give approval to those who practice them.”

However, the groups actually addressed in the text of Romans 1:32 are:

A) “those who practice such things,” and
B) those who “not only do the same, but also consent with them that practice them.”

See the difference? It’s kind of a big deal. Sorry to burst your bubble, but Paul isn’t condemning anyone here simply for disagreeing with you.

And let’s not forget what Paul is actually writing about here. His list in Romans 1 didn’t just come out of thin air. People being given over by God to the items on that list, Paul says, are experiencing a direct result of verse 25, in which “they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever.”

Now go back and peruse the last two paragraphs of my answer to Question 18 for my thoughts on who, in this conversation, has “worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator.”

Conclusion

To sum up, thank you for asking these questions. They’re important ones and it’s vital that they be discussed among the Body of Christ. Your widely-shared article has seen to that. But the important thing in this discussion is to treat them as real, open questions. Far too many people I’ve seen posting your article have treated them as rhetorical questions . . . have started from the assumption that one set of answers is the “right” one, and any alternate answers are “wrong.”

I don’t know your heart, so I’m not going to presume to know your motives in writing these questions. But I sincerely hope this wasn’t your intention, because rhetorical questions do not constitute engagement, and it’s only in genuinely engaging with and seeking to truly understand those with whom we disagree that we can come to any sort of closure on this issue – on any political issue, really.

No, that’s not entirely right. Instead of engagement, we can choose – so long as our faction is the dominant one – to enforce our policy preferences on those who disagree with us. But if that’s the course we choose, can we be at all surprised if, once they become dominant, those opposing factions choose the same course for us?

A default preference for engagement and persuasion is one of the hallmarks of a free society and a representative government. The only alternative to engagement is oppression, by one side or the other. The Body of Christ has amply demonstrated for two thousand years that it can exist – and even thrive – in an oppressive environment (and for that matter, in environments where the Church is either the oppressor or the oppressed).

Personally, though, I’d prefer it to be neither. Wouldn’t you?

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